Media Literacy Online Project - Serving Educators Around The World
Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education- College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene
 

Literacy For The Information Age

Author: Dr. Renee Hobbs
Associate Professor of Communication
Babson College, Wellesley, MA
ReneeHobbs@aol.com

Published as "Literacy in the Information Age," in James Flood, Diane Lapp and Shirley Brice Heath (Eds), Handbook of Research on Teaching Literacy Through the Communicative and Visual Arts. International Reading Association. New York: Macmillan, 1998, pp. 7-14.

For citizens living in the United States at the end of the 20th century, it hardly seems necessary to state the evidence which shows the dominance of film, television, and other mass media products on the lives of Americans (see Alton-Lee, Huthall & Patrick, 1993; Howe, 1983; Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 1990 for examples of recent evidence). There are few educators still in the practice of teachers who hold the same level of animosity toward television as the generation of teachers in the 1950s and 60s, many of whom viewed television as their professional nemesis. Many teachers are increasingly using mass media "texts" to enrich their subject areas, comfortably moving between the textbook, the trade book, the newspaper, the film and the videotape in their efforts to bring rich ideas into the classroom.

As for the study of images and mass media in elementary and secondary schools, there has been increasing momentum among language arts and social studies teachers to include media analysis and production activities in the classroom. However, since the word "media" has become entrenched in the educational community as the province of librarians, and media technologies and messages conceived of as merely a delivery system to transfer messages, images have been relegated to the margins, taken for granted to serve as mere decoration. In a society where media use is the central leisure activity for most of its citizens and the dominant source of information about the world, the study of the mass media has been neglected in schools. Students have had little instructional support in helping them analyze and think about media messages. Educators often mistakenly believe that they are engaged in expanding the concept of literacy when they use television to teach with and few understand that media literacy consists of teaching about media in addition to teaching with it.

So the problem is clear: our students are growing up in a world saturated with media messages, messages that fill the bulk of their leisure time and provide them with information about who to vote for and what buying decisions to make. Yet students receive little to no training in the skills of analyzing or evaluating these messages, many of which make use of language, moving images, music, sound effects, special visual effects and other techniques which powerfully affect our emotional responses.

Educators' exclusive focus on language is a legacy of the historical context of the past, when cultural survival depended upon the mastery of the printed word. While these skills are even more important today, language is only one of a number of symbol systems which humans use to express and share meaning. Changes in communication technologies over the past 100 years have created a cultural environment which has extended and reshaped the role of language and the written word. Language must be appreciated as it exists in relationship to other forms of symbolic expression -- including images, sound, music and electronic forms of communication. Scholars and educators are coming to recognize that literacy is not simply a matter of acquiring decontextualized decoding, comprehension and production skills, but that the concept of literacy must be connected with the culture and contexts in which reading and writing are used (Cook-Gumperz, 1986).

This chapter urges educators to consider this new definition of literacy, a definition adapted by the author based on the work of educators who identify themselves with the "media literacy" movement (Firestone, 1992):

Literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate messages in a variety of forms.

Embedded in this definition is both a process for learning and an expansion of the concept of "text" to include messages of all sorts. This view of literacy posits the student as being actively engaged in the process of analyzing and creating messages and as a result, this definition reflects some basic principles of school reform which generally include:

  • inquiry based education
  • student centered learning
  • problem solving in cooperative teams
  • alternatives to standardized testing
  • integrated curriculum

Basic Processes of Literacy: Access, Analyze, Evaluate and Communicate

The four processes which constitute the new vision of literacy provide a powerful frame in which to consider how people develop skills in using language and other forms of symbolic expression. For example, the ability to access messages connects with those enabling skills which include decoding symbols and building broad vocabularies. It also includes those skills related to the locating, organizing and retrieving of information from a variety of sources. Access also includes the ability to use the tools of technology, including video technology, computers and various on-line services. Access skills are often labeled as information literacy, or more recently, "driver training for the information superhighway."

The ability to analyze messages connects with those interpretive comprehension skills which include the ability to make use of categories, concepts or ideas; determine the genre of a work; make inferences about cause and effect; consider the specific strategies and techniques which are used to construct the work; and identify the author's purpose and point of view. At the secondary level, the ability to analyze messages also may include a recognition of the historical, political, economic or aesthetic contexts in which messages are created and consumed.

The ability to evaluate messages concerns those judgments about the relevance and value of the meaning of messages for the reader, including making use of prior knowledge to interpret a work; predicting a further outcome or a logical conclusion; identifying values in a message; and appreciating the aesthetic quality of a work. Although the skills of analysis and evaluation are frequently conflated by practitioners of media literacy, it is important to recognize that analysis skills depend upon the ability to grasp and make effective use of conceptual knowledge which is outside the student's own perspective, while evaluation skills make use of the student's existing world view, knowledge, attitudes and values.

The ability to communicate messages is at the heart of the traditional meaning of literacy, and the skills of writing and speaking have been highly valued by educators. In the last twenty years, writing has come to approach the primacy that reading has gained in the language arts hierarchy. Communication skills are diverse and, to some extent, media-specific. General skills include the ability to understand the audience with whom one is communicating; the effective use of symbols to convey meaning; the ability to organize a sequence of ideas, and the ability to capture and hold the attention and interest of the message receiver. Media-specific production skills for video include learning to make effective choices in framing and points of view; learning to use visual and auditory symbolism; and learning how to manipulate time and space effectively through editing.

Expanding the Concept of "Text"

While the four concepts provide a new frame for thinking about the processes involved when people create and share messages, what makes the new vision of literacy so powerful is the application of these skills to messages in a variety of forms. At present, reading/language arts educators focus on literature as the core of the K-8 curriculum: the short story, poetry, drama and nonfiction are claimed to be ideal because they "motivate learning with appeal to universal feelings and needs... classic literature speaks most eloquently to readers and writers" (California State Board of Education, 1986, p. 7).

But they also may seem disconnected and remote from the experiences of students who, because of television, are "escorted across the globe even before they have permission to cross the street" (Meyrowitz, 1985, p. 238). Critics have claimed that, too often, a literature-based reading/language arts program "ignores the life experience, the history and the language practice of students" (Freire and Macedo, 1987, p. 146), and that when literary materials are used primarily as vehicles for exercises in comprehension and vocabulary development, students may become alienated from the processes of reading and writing in a range of contexts.

In the past, educators have been comfortable to disenfranchise and overlook present-day cultural products, especially television, even though many works of literature which are now considered classic or traditional began their life as popular works designed for mass audiences (Beach, 1992). But just as scholars and critics have engaged in heated controversy about what texts are appropriate study objects to be included in the canon of essential literary works (Gless & Herrnstein Smith, 1992), these debates are filtering into changes in the curriculum.

Many educators have discovered that the analysis of contemporary media can build skills that transfer to students' work with the written word. When educators permit and encourage the study of contemporary media products in classrooms, students develop skills which alter and reshape their relationship to media products. Nehamas (1992) explains that "[s]erious watching ... disarms many of the criticisms commonly raised about television." More important, analysis of media texts helps students gain interest in writing and speaking, and helps nurture students' natural curiosity and motivation. Consider a story presented by Lauren Axelrod (cited in White, 1993a), a high school teacher in Houston, Texas:

I used media literacy concepts to get my low-achievement students to tackle Conrad's Heart of Darkness and T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. I started with an extensive analysis of the Francis Ford Coppola film, Apocalypse Now, and we discussed the film's narrative structure, mood, point of view, rhythm and character development. Then a team of students read Conrad while another team read Eliot. We then applied the same concepts to the short story and poem in group discussion and writing exercises. Finally, students created a videotape which compared and contrasted the three works with each other. I saw students turn on to literature in a way I never saw them engage with anything in the classroom.

Media education exists as an increasingly vital component of elementary education in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Spain and other nations. In Great Britain, the mandate includes media education as a strand within the National Standards developed in English, where students are required to study the ways in which media products convey meanings in a range of media texts (Alvarado & Boyd-Barrett, 1992; Bazalgette, 1992; Brown, 1991; Buckingham, 1991; Lusted, 1991; Masterman, 1985). While still controversial among those who favor a more traditional and narrow view of 'culture,' scholarly work in media pedagogy has grown widely, and consensus is growing about the set of concepts, skills and learning environments which help most strengthen students' ability to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate messages in many forms.

The New Vision: Key Analytic Concepts

Current approaches to reading/language arts often make use of a laundry list of concepts which inform the work of teachers and students in a classroom. Such lists are the result of adding new paradigms for learning upon older models. Layer by layer, the models now used in reading/language arts have become cumbersome and unwieldy (Hawthorne, 1992). Hawthorne writes, "The scope of English heightens the individuality of curricular patterns...Teachers are left to wave the various components into a coherent pattern for themselves and their students" (p. 116). But a simple and powerful new definition of literacy, as proposed in this report, makes it possible to identify the most important processes, concepts and skills for K-12 instruction and makes use of these with a wide variety of message forms, from folktales to commercials, from historical fiction to newspaper photography.

Media literacy incorporates the theoretical traditions of semiotics, literary criticism, communication theory, research on arts education and language development. Although the conceptual principles of the new vision of literacy have taken many forms for various curriculum writers in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States, the author identifies the following ideas as critical components of all programs:

All messages are constructions. Print messages are created by an author who selects the ideas and words to convey meanings. Images are created by a photographer who makes similar selections, and television programs are created by a group of people, led by a producer, who make choices about each image and word used from among many possible options. The construction of messages requires careful thinking, creativity and organizational skills. Knowing how messages are constructed helps the reader appreciate the artistry involved and helps better interpret the meaning of a work.

Messages are representations of social reality. Messages have a relationship to the lived experiences of individuals in many cultures. Even when a message is imaginary, hypothetical or fantastic, it represents social reality, defined as perceptions about the contemporary world which are shared among individuals. Messages also represent the social realities of times and places far removed, and help us make sense of the past, present and future. People need the ability to judge the accuracy of particular messages which may or may not reflect social reality.

Individuals negotiate meaning by interacting with messages. The meaning of a message is found in the act of interpretation. Each reader or viewer uses prior knowledge and experience in the process of reading or critical viewing. A skillful reader or viewer examines many different stylistic features of the text and pays careful attention to the context in which the message occurs in the process of interpretation. Different individuals can find quality and beauty in various texts.

Messages have economic, political, social and aesthetic purposes. People create and share messages for many reasons, but making money is one of the most important reasons why message making is so important in modern culture. Many messages produced in our culture have an economic purpose of some sort. When authors have political purposes, they use a message to gain power or authority over others. When authors have social purposes, they use a message to present ideas about how people could or should behave, think or feel. When authors have aesthetic purposes, they use a message to experiment with different kinds of symbolic forms and ideas. Understanding how messages operate in terms of their economic, political, social and aesthetic purposes helps readers better understand the context of a work.

Each form of communication has unique characteristics. An author makes choices about which kinds of media are most appropriate to convey a particular message. Television news has characteristics which favor messages which are immediate and visual, while news photographs have characteristics which favor messages which have an emotional component. When writing, an author must carefully choose the most effective genre in which to work since an essay, a memo, a short story or a poem can all be effective forms depending on the purpose, audience and content of the message. Being a good communicator means knowing which formats, genres and media to use in a wide variety of situations.

It is clear that the most dynamic concepts of current practice in reading/language arts instruction are wholly consistent with these key concepts. But when educators include the analysis and creation of film, photographs, newspapers, radio and television, new concepts are required to enable students to ask critical questions about these contemporary forms. Some of these concepts may be unfamiliar to reading/language arts teachers, particularly at the elementary level. For example, teachers in some communities have sometimes been reluctant to include the analysis of how messages have political or economic purposes. While it may be argued that analysis of the economics of literature is not of central value for young students, analysis of the economics of media messages is essential to help middle school and high school students understand the nature of communicative messages in contemporary culture. It would be irresponsible to include the study of film, television, newspapers or other mass media without providing students in grades 4 and up with a paradigm to help them understand the ways in which messages have value in the marketplace.

Media Literacy and Critical Thinking Skills

As glossily packaged and presented film, video and advertiser-supported materials enter the school classroom, teachers often consider video materials valuable because everyone in a classroom is presumed to be able to decode the messages on the screen. But the new vision of literacy presented in this report is not just aimed at cultivating the relatively simple process of decoding messages-- it is the sophisticated analysis, evaluation and the active creation of messages that are the most significant, complex and vital skills needed for survival in an information age. These take a lifetime to master fully.

Even very young students can engage in conceptual analysis and evaluation of media messages, at a time when they are still beginning to master the decoding and comprehension skills required for print. According to Resnick (1987, p. 31):

The most important single message of modern research on the nature of thinking is that the kinds of activities traditionally associated with thinking are not limited to advanced levels of development. Instead these activities are an intimate part of even elementary levels of reading... when learning is proceeding well.

When teachers make use of a full range of messages in developing children's literacy, higher-order cognitive skills can be integrated into the activities of very young children using media messages as study objects. This helps motivate students to master the basic accessing skills to crack the code of the printed word. These analytic concepts, already familiar to students in their work with media artifacts, can then be applied to print forms. Elementary teachers who have used this approach find that "much of the language used to view television critically is transferable to other media-- noticing camera angles in photography, understanding differences between reality and fantasy.... There are also many connections to teaching verbal and written skills " (Lacy, 1993, p. 11, 12).

What happens, according to British educators, is that when students critically examine a wide range of texts in both print and visual media, they develop more complex expectations about everything they read and see. "Media education is often seen as a way of defending children from television. It ought to be seen as a way of giving them high expectations of television, of all media, and of themselves" (Bazalgette, 1992, p. 45). Such views represent the potential of expanded literacy in reshaping the character of our nation's near limitless appetite for mass media products and in doing so, helping citizens reconnect to the rich storehouse of literary treasures from many cultures, past and present.

If media literacy skills help young people develop an appetite for reading, we would judge it a stunning success. If media literacy sklls help young people develop an appetite for the stimulating, complex and provocative kinds of television programming increasingly more available as a result of cable television, then in tim,e we would expect that media indsutries begin to increase the quality of programming. Such goals have yet to be examined among researchers because, as yet, there are so few community or school-based laboratories where media literacy is being implemented at a system-wide level.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF EXPANDING THE CONCEPT OF LITERACY

The new vision of literacy has consequences for some of the most important issues which face American educators today. As developed in the following pages, this paper outlines how the new vision of literacy helps restore the important connection between the school and the culture, making education more relevant to the communities to which students belong. It also outlines how the new vision of literacy reflects the kind of authentic learning which occurs when reading and writing occur in contexts where "process, product and content are all interrelated" (Edelsky, Altwerger & Flores, 1991, p. 9), and where language skills and language learning are conceived of as being inherently social processes, requiring direct engagement and experience tied to meaningful activity.

Building Relevance between the Classroom and the Community

The claims by now are depressingly familiar: many students actively resist the process of learning in school, and while they can decode language, they cannot infer meaning; the school curriculum is fragmented and decontextualized, promoting indifference and intellectual dependency (Diaz, 1992; Hirsch, 1989). Fortunately, elementary educators have already begun to respond to these criticisms by making changes in their methods of instruction: moving away from a curriculum which emphasizes facts and isolated skills and toward an emphasis on collaborative, active learning which involves complex thought and interpretation (Cohen & Grant, 1993). Multicultural education is education that values human diversity and acknowledges that "alternative experiences and viewpoints are part of the growing process" (Grant, 1993). The new vision of literacy proposed in this report is fueled by this philosophy. It promotes cultural pluralism and social equality by making changes in the processes and content of school curriculum; in doing so, it is centered on "building meaningful relationships between curriculum and life" (Pang, 1992, p. 67).

Carlos Cortes argues that media literacy is essential to multicultural education, noting that media literacy strengthens students' knowledge about various media forms, helps develop analytic and creative skills in responding to media, and helps students become skilled in using print, images, sounds and other tools to express and share ideas. Cortes (1991, p. 153) writes, "Media can be used to stimulate students to consider multiple perspectives on current and historical multicultural dilemmas." Clearly, both multicultural education and the new vision of literacy proposed here share the goal of opening up the canon to expand the range of works which are studied in the classroom.

Not unexpectedly, much of the criticism which has developed about the inclusion of works by Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, African Americans and others can be directed at the new vision of literacy as well, which would include works from popular culture which some critics have labeled "trash." Educators who believe that "good literature" is a "salve one can apply to children from the wrong side of the tracks to heal them of their background" (Beach, 1992, p. 554) are likely to resist any effort which attempts to make the canon more responsive to the lives of students and their communities. But John Beach recognizes that the time is ripe to examine the variety of definitions of "good literature" and suggests that instead of viewing literature as a pyramid which places classic works at the top and works of popular culture at the bottom, it should be considered "like a tree with many branches; the 'best' can be found at the tip of each branch."

ESL/Bilingual Education. How might the new vision of literacy affect students who come to school speaking other languages besides English? According to Porter (1990, p. 153), the instructional methods which are most effective in ESL/bilingual education are identical with the active learner-centered model which the new vision of literacy promotes. Techniques which make use of "drama, songs, objects and audiovisual materials to help convey meaning and content" are highly effective.

In Portland, Maine, media artist Huey (also known as James Coleman) developed a media education program for ESL students speaking 27 languages, where students make film and video using animation and live-action techniques. Portland elementary teachers "have found that Huey's approach offers their students a creative way to improve their English, their public speaking and their communication skills in general.... and it breaks down walls between schools and communities through cable TV and closed circuit screenings and student research within the community" (White, 1993b).

Writing for the College Board, Hirsch (1989, p. 60) notes:

Over and over again, teachers in ESL and bilingual classrooms have realized the power of authentic tasks to motivate communication and language learning...In searching for authentic tasks and materials, many ESL and proficiency teachers are looking beyond traditional textbooks to primary sources in the language they are teaching, including newspapers, television commercials, menus, hotel receipts, children's books, and journalism and fiction.

Parent Education. In some communities, parents are active and supportive players in the day-to-day life of the school. In too many communities, however, parents are disenfranchised partners in the educational process. In considering the relationship between the new vision of literacy and the home-school connection, it is necessary to identify the high level of ambivalence and concern which many citizens have with the ways film, television and other mass media have shaped public discourse. Many adults believe that television has damaged the process we use to elect public officials; that mass media organizations disrupt the private lives of individuals unnecessarily; that violence in film and television programming desensitizes people and alters their conceptions of the social world; and that the values of sensationalism have reshaped culture and the arts (Bianculli, 1993). The new vision of literacy proposed in this report is based on a fundamental truism about the purpose of democracy: in order for citizens to be engaged in self-governance, they must critically analyze and evaluate information and resources. This work is essential if citizens are to take meaningful action and make meaningful decisions on issues of concern to the community. But in a culture in which citizens see themselves as spectators and consumers, democracy is threatened. When citizens do not employ their skills of analysis and evaluation to information and entertainment products, apathy and cynicism reign.

The new vision of literacy could help encourage parents to more fully embrace their responsibilities to help their children interpret the meanings of the complex messages which bombard them every day. Too often, parents feel intimidated by the activity of the classroom, by routines which are established by educators, who may unintentionally disempower parents from embracing their own authority as interpreters of textual materials. While some parents may hesitate to voice their interpretations of a literary work, parents often feel quite comfortable discussing their interpretations of a film, a situation comedy, a dramatic series, a documentary or an op-ed article. The new vision of literacy creates opportunities for parents and their children to engage with the complex task of sorting out the meanings of the messages in the environment.

Making Classrooms Centers for Authentic Learning

Educators have been discussing how to make learning more authentic since the 19th century, when John Dewey first began outlining how children's own activity, their work, could be a vehicle for learning. When learning is authentic, the content of classroom discourse is meaningful and relevant to students; language skills are not taught in isolation; connections between subject areas are emphasized. According to Sizer (1984), in authentic learning environments, students learn through direct experience with tasks they themselves value, with intellectual stimulation from teachers who ask thoughtful questions and provide supportive coaching.

The new vision of literacy helps nurture new relationships between teachers and students, helping rebind the current contrast that "exists between paidia (play) and paideia (education)" (Gallagher, 1992), based on the recognition that the aim of the reading/language arts teacher is to cultivate a learning environment where students bring their own naturally energetic exploration to the study of new ideas. Rather than considering language development as a series of isolated and fragmented skills, the new vision of literacy puts students at the center of the processes of accessing, analyzing, evaluating and communicating messages. Most important, the new vision of literacy is centered around empowerment, defined as the "process through which students learn to critically appropriate knowledge existing outside their immediate experience in order to broaden their understanding of themselves, the world and the possibilities for transforming the taken-for-granted assumptions about the way we live" McLaren, 1989, p. 186).

Integration with other subject areas. As is clearly evident, the new vision of literacy provides a simple, process-based model which makes connections between reading/language arts, the visual and performing arts, social studies and science. Shepard (1993, p. 35) explains how the new vision of literacy is an ideal tool for subject integration at the elementary level:

If media literacy is presented to [teachers] as just another add-on, there will be little hope for its adoption. If, however, media literacy is presented not just as something that meets students' needs, but something that will meet the teacher's need to integrate the disparate elements of a broad curriculum, then it stands a good chance of becoming an important part of the curriculum. In fact, media literacy functions so well as an integrator that it would be worth using even if it were not as intrinsically important as it is. Since mass media artifacts are relevant to science, social studies, the visual and performing arts as well as reading/language arts, teachers can easily make connections which stretch across subject areas by teaching with media and teaching about media.

In some communities, teachers across the core subject areas are being trained in how to integrate media literacy concepts into many curriculum areas. In Billerica, Massachusetts, teachers in language arts, social studies, health education, science and the visual and performing arts are discovering the synergy which results from team-developed initiatives. For example, in the spring of 1994, teachers collaborated on a district-wide program to help students critically analyze tobacco advertising as part of the health curriculum. Students examined the historical, political and economic dimensions of tobacco advertising; they reviewed, categorized and analyzed a huge volume of persuasive materials designed to make smoking look attractive; and they made their own public service messages, targeted at their own community, to persuade them against smoking. More than 2,000 students in grades K - 12 participated in the project by designing slogans, writing newspaper editorials, designing billboards, bumper stickers, posters, radio ads and videotape public service announcements. Teachers persuaded the local billboard company to put up one student's billboard design on the major highway of the town, giving thousands of citizens the opportunity to read a child's message, and creating a powerful message for students. Such examples emphasize the ways in which media literacy activities bring a renewed sense of relevance between the worlds of the classroom and the world of contemporary culture.

Using new tools of assessment. When assessment is authentic, it has as its central purpose the goal of providing feedback to a child and his or her parents about the quality of the learning experience. When assessment is authentic, it mirrors the ways in which standards of quality are evaluated in the world outside the classroom: through close examination of products and performances.

For more than a century, assessment in the United States has been shaped by the needs of scholars and academics to standardize and quantify learning experiences (Gould, 1981). This has led to an atomized, fragmented view of the learning process, one conducive to "data reduction." Now, educators are coming to recognize the need to reclaim the assessment process, and as a result, diverse new forms of assessment are being used in schools.

The new vision of literacy provides simple and direct opportunities to observe, monitor and evaluate the processes of accessing, analyzing, evaluating and communicating messages in a range of informal and formal settings. Since the creation of messages is central to the new vision of literacy, portfolio-based models of assessment are consistent with the new vision. Indeed, the premise of the new vision is based on the idea that the processes of accessing, analyzing and evaluating messages all contribute to the creation and communication of messages, so that students can make direct connections between their reading and their writing, their viewing and analysis of images, and the process of creating messages using language, images, sounds, music, graphics and video.

The Toronto Board of Education's Benchmark Program has been using an assessment model designed to demystify educational goals and illuminate the nature of good performance (Larter & Donnelly, 1993). By combining authentic performance activities with systematic observation and holistic evaluation, teachers can assess student skills in a way which most closely matches the broad general skills which are at the core of reading/language arts instruction. For example, in one benchmark of students' ability to comprehend nonprint information and their oral communication skills, grade three students in Toronto are asked to watch a videotape on owls and explain the major ideas in their own words. Students were found to generally lack strong skills in the comprehension of informative video, perhaps because their expectations about television shape their level of motivation and effort in decoding (Salomon, 1979). Such evidence reminds us of the lessons of the reading comprehension scholars-- how important it is not to assume that our students understand what they see just because they see it.

The development of standards, tied to authentic performances, which allow educators to assess the quality of students' writing, speaking, listening and thinking skills is consistent with the new vision of literacy. The province of Ontario was the first in Canada to mandate that media literacy instruction be at least 30% of the reading/language arts program in grades 7 - 12. The performance of younger students from the Toronto Board of Education results suggests that students lack basic comprehension skills of information presented in video formats, pointing clearly to the necessity of direct instruction to help students in grades K-8 learn to comprehend, interpret and analyze a wide range of texts, including messages from television and the mass media.

Staff development issues. Teachers are just as ambivalent about media culture as the rest of the citizenry. As discussed earlier, teachers have a wide range of attitudes about the value and consequences of broadening the concept of literacy to include new materials, especially popular music, film, television and music videos. However, teachers who have attempted to incorporate these materials into their classroom realize that students have a tremendous amount of knowledge and interest in these messages, and teachers and students can share together in the learning process.

It is not difficult for teachers to move from teaching exclusively with media to addressing media as study objects. Some teachers have described the process as similar to the process of "consciousness raising" about gender and race which many educators experienced in the 1970s. "It's like putting on a new pair of glasses-- you see the same things [in media culture], but now I approach these messages differently," wrote one teacher in a program of teacher education at the Harvard Institute on Media Education, a staff development program in media literacy that was conducted by the author in 1993 and 1994 that attracted educators from across the nation.

But German educator Dichanz (1992) writes plainly about what it takes to make the new vision of literacy a reality in schools: "It is the staff that has to translate tasks... into practical work, and it is that staff that has to be provided with the theoretical background for this new approach..." For US. educators, this means that the work of staff development is best accomplished, not by individual teachers acting independently, but through coordinated and sustained efforts, using resources and tools which help them gain access to new ideas and practice new strategies of managing classroom activity. Such work is well underway at the state, district and local levels. For example, the State of New Mexico has mandated that all students complete a media literacy course before high school graduation, and begun a process of teacher training so that media literacy will be integrated into the curriculum at all grade levels. And in the community of Billerica, Massachusetts, after three years of study, twenty six teachers have completed the first Master's Degree in Media Literacy, supported by Merrimack Education Center and Fitchburg State College, in order to implement a new vision of literacy in grades K-12 integrated within existing subject areas. Teachers graduating from this program are beginning to teach additional teachers in the New England area.

If media literacy is to emerge as a new vision of literacy for the information age, then a high degree of coordination will be required from among a range of shareholders: the scholarly community, educators in K - 12 environments, parents, the publishing and media production industries, and the standardized testing industry. Given the decentralized nature of American schools, it is unlikely that such coordination will receive the support it needs, and more likely that media literacy initiatives will develop as a result of innovation and experimentation in the diverse "labs" of individual districts, schools and classrooms.

For an institution which has historically clung to the concept of literacy as the central organizing force of education, we must respect the time it will take educators and scholars to promote the type of sustained and meaningful change that is needed for our schools.


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